The Landscape Restoration Hub for the Eastern and Southern Africa countries was launched in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on the occasion of the International Day of Forests.
The hub will specifically be looking at ways to provide technical support, funding and incentives to forest restoration programmes in more than 24 countries of the region, Charles Karangwa, the hub coordinator explained.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a partner, conducted the first opportunity assessment and mapping report to identify priority landscapes to be restored.
It is hoped that the initiative would increase linkage and coordination between public and private sector.
Jesca Eriyo, the deputy secretary general of the five-member East African Community (EAC) described the initiative as important as it’s in line with Bonn challenge, the largest world initiative on forest landscape restoration launched in Germany in 2011.
Under the drive, government, civil societies and private sector target to restore 150 million hectares of forests by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.
This target by 2020 could bring net benefits of over USD 85 billion per year to national economies while by 2030 benefits could rise to USD 5.5 trillion and reduce carbon emissions by 11 per cent as part of the Reducing Emissions from Degraded Land and Forests programme.
Eriyo said that annually over 55,000 million hectares of forests are degraded in the region, which she said was affecting ecosystems, biodiversity, and tourism.
“We have to build the capacity of the centre to deal with such issues-restoration needs resources and we have to educate community, give them other alternatives," she said.
The International Forests Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests, and trees outside forests for the benefit of current and future generations.
Rwanda’s minister of Natural Resources, Vincent Biruta, stressed that forests are key in restoring national water sources.
He also called on countries to control population growth and encourage use of alternative energy sources to reduce pressure on forests. Over 80 per cent of the region’s population reportedly relies on wood for fuel.
According to the State of East Africa Report 2012, the region has lost more than 22 million hectares of forest cover in the past two decades, partly due to illegal logging and charcoal burning.
The report says East Africa’s 107 million hectares of forest shrank by more than 9 per cent to 98 million hectares between 1990 and 2000, and a further 13 per cent to 85 million hectares in 2010 due to rampant deforestation.
Though Tanzania still has the lion’s share of the region’s forest cover, with a total of 45 million hectares (53 per cent), it had the largest share of deforestation, accounting for 67 per cent, followed by Kenya at 33 per cent, in the period under review.
In the past two decades, Tanzania’s forested land has reduced by 15 million hectares. Kenya’s forest area in 2010 was 32 million hectares (38 per cent), which was almost 18 per cent less than in 1990. Burundi also lost 117,000 hectares of forest in the same period.